Don’t do what your clients want

It’s noon on the West Coast and I’ve been at it since about 5:15am today. Why? Because I don’t work weekends. I made this rule for myself when I started my own business. It is very rarely violated. Only when I think something is a real emergency will I work on a weekend. Not when my client thinks it’s an emergency, mind you, but when I do. Why? Because I set my business’ standards and practices, not my clients.

Of course, I’m not ignoring them–not at all! I think about their needs and their wants and I balance those out with my own, and then I set my standards and practices.

Often, what they want is not the best thing for them anyway (ex., they want to avoid making phonecalls to potential clients), so my business focuses on their needs (they need to get clients) and I have tailored how I work based on those needs. But sometimes this means doing things they don’t want–like forcing them to make the calls or not being available to them on the weekends.

This is something you should consider for your own business. Set your own rules and standards and practices and hold true to them. It pays off. I’ve never yet lost a client because I wouldn’t work on a weekend or I didn’t answer the phone after 5pm. Everyone respects that this is how my business works.

The world will not end if you don’t do all the time what your clients say they want. Sometimes, it is good to be a little “selfish.” Do what you want how you want to do it and you’ll be more productive and enjoy the process to boot.

And it’s not just me who says so. Seth Godin tells a good anecdote on the same theme today on his blog.

I say “Book ’em, Danno”

We hear lots of talk about copyright and intellectual property these days. For example, Kazaa just reached a settlement for lots of their piracy ($115 Million). And all that is good, but you almost never hear discussion about another part of copyright law: the criminal part.

See, these cases are mostly civil–a creator (copyright holder) sues a company for using the work without permission. But there are criminal penalties for copyright abuse. Depending on the severity of the infringement and whether or not it was deliberate, theoretically a copyright criminal could go to jail for 1-5 years. Federal prision.

I say we should lobby for stricter application of the criminal parts of the law. Think about how that would get lots of the lazy pseudo-bloggers (those who just steal material and post it on their sites) who are making money off the ads on their sites! I can think of more than a few folks who deserve to do the perp-walk and make friends with Bubba Gangthug in the slammer.
It would also make life a lot better for creatives. Think about how, as an art director, you could turn to your client and say “we can either pay for comp usage of this photo or I can do marker comps for the presentation–which do you want?” rather than using an image from a sourcebook illegally and then having your client get married to that shot.

So call your representatives and make a stink about it. Copyright crime is as much of a crime as any other form of stealing.

Beating the service horse…

Today I went to the local UPS Store to drop off a portfolio I had reviewed. The photographer had provided a return label, but I needed a new UPS box into which to put the portfolio. Now mind you, the store was an official UPS Store, branded UPS, and the first to come up on the UPS site when I searched for a local UPS location. It’s not a Postal Annex or some other store.

So, imagine my surprise when the worker there told me “We don’t carry UPS boxes.”

“Wait–you are a UPS Store, right?”


“But you don’t have UPS boxes?”


“You’re telling me I have to buy a box from you in order to use the prepaid shipping label I have here?


“I don’t think so.” I said, and headed out the door.

Of course, when I got back to my desk I called UPS to let them know about this awful service, after all, a good company would want to know that their representatives are essentially scamming their customers. After being put on hold while she checked, the nice customer service person said, “That store isn’t owned by us so they have the perrogative not to provide UPS supplies.”

I was stunned. I said, “But the store is branded UPS. That makes your company look terrible! You should pass this on to your marketing department…”

“It’s that store’s perrogative, Ma’am. There’s nothing we can do,” the voice said in an obviously bored and disinterested voice.


“Thanks for calling UPS! Have a nice day.”

What marketing or customer service department thinks that after telling a customer that they don’t care about you or how their business looks to the outside world, saying “have a nice day” is a good idea? I’ll tell you: a lousy one.

Don’t act like UPS. Even if you can’t do anything about “it,” find something you can do. If the woman had said “I’m sorry about that, can we send a driver with the box–there will be one in your neighborhood today” or “Here’s the address where you can get the supplies you need,” that would have been much better.

Money & The Golden Rule

In business, you need to be sensible about costs. It is important not to spend unnecessarily, but being “cheap” isn’t always cost-effective. For example, maybe you’re a photographer and you can get a website designed by some off-shore company (or even one in your own country) for less than $500. Sounds like a deal, right? Not really.

$500 is a lowball price for website design. By using the company that lowballed, you are contributing to the slow death of web designers who charge legitimate prices. The value of what they do is being cheapened by your actions. Yes, you are only one client, but there will be others. You can’t control the others, but you can make the choice to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” After all, image how you would feel if a client came to you and said “We’re going with PhotoBob because he’ll do the whole project with no usage restrictions for $500.”

But, continuing our hypothetical, you look beyond that and go ahead and use this lowballing company. They, in turn, use lowballing photographers for any of their photo needs. They will need to cut corners to stay in business at those low prices, so using cheap photography is a good way for them to do that. Guess what…you just hurt your own industry by using a lowballer in another.

That’s not good business.

In this case, your website is your most important marketing tool–why aren’t you spending appropriately? This is not the place to be cheap anyway.

But the real rub is that it is, quite simply, wrong thinking. Why do I so often hear about creatives who have no problem pirating software or stealing music or even movies and yet who scream and yell about how their own industry is being ruined by people doing exactly the same thing–just with their creative product?! You cannot complain about others lowballing you or stealing your work if you use lowballers and/or steal others’ work. Period.

Here’s a fact: in the past I used software I shouldn’t have. In the past. I stopped quite some time ago. I learned that it was wrong, and I stopped. I’m not proud that I used to do otherwise and I can tell you that the cost of Microsoft’s Office is not a pleasant check to write, but it is the right thing to do. Working honestly may cost more on the surface, but overall I am actually not only doing better by paying for these things, I can look at myself in the mirror without the guilty flinch. And I build those costs into my CODB so it is covered by my fees anyway.

By spending more money on quality creative product, whatever it is, you are encouraging the increase in perceived value of other creative products. Also, you are contributing to the economy in a positive way: your costs are passed on to your clients who pass them on to their clients, ad infinitum. Money is generated at every level. All of this is good. And all of it can be traced back to the good old Golden Rule.

Repeat after me: Service!

Okay, I wrote about service just recently, but I had another couple of incidents with it recently which brought it to mind again. The first one was at the grocery where, after going through the check-out, I noticed that I was overcharged for a melon I bought. I went to the Customer Service counter and pointed out the error. The manager there said “The cashier entered the wrong code” and walked off to the cashier. No “I’m sorry” and no explanation of what she (the manager) was going to do about it–just an excuse and disappearance. It turns out she was getting me the money owed, but I had no way of knowing that.

That’s bad service. Customers do not care how the error was made, they only want it acknowledged and corrected. The “how” of it is an internal thing–in this case the manager should take it up with the cashier AFTER she has dealt with the wronged customer.  The manager should have said, “I’m sorry, let me comp that melon for you” or “I’m sorry, let me get you the difference in cash” and nothing about how the error was made.

When your business makes an error, and it will some day because it is run by a human and we all screw up from time to time, admit it fully and offer to make some sort of ammends for it. Do NOT explain the error or rationalize it.  Telling a client that the image file was ruined because of a power outage does not get that client the image. Sure, it wasn’t your fault, per se, but it happened on your watch and you should grit your teeth and offer to reshoot at your expense. Not only will your client forgive your “mistake,” s/he will remember how well you handled it and probably use you again because of your integrity.

Another real-life example…I went mattress shopping over the weekend. Mattress salesmen rank pretty close to lawyers and used car salesmen in honesty and respectability in most folks’ minds. The man who was working with me had a nice-if-salesmanish manner, answered my questions, and gave me plenty of time to lie on mattress after mattress and take notes. He left me alone for the lying down part and during one lie-down a couple walked in who had been in the day before. They were not happy with their bed as it had been put together. It seems that the bed, when constructed, was too high on their headboard. The salesman did not miss a beat before he said “I’m sorry, tell me more about the problem.” The wife described her issues and the salesman checked the records. He came back and said “We didn’t include a frame in the order did we–our frames are adjustable from 3-6 inches. If I send one, do you think that will fix the problem?” They said that it probably would, but how much would that cost? “Oh! No charge, of course–I should have thought of that possibility when I wrote up the order.”

More than anything else, how that salesman handled that problem ensured that not only will I most likely buy from him, that couple will tell all their friends about how great he and his company were. That’s good service, and good marketing.

Okay, it’s not all marketing

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our work that we forget that it isn’t the whole world. People with kids tend to be a bit more aware of this (though occasionally they get stuck in their own “life with kids” world, but that’s another story), but for creatives especially, it is often hard to stop the hyper-focusing.

Then something in life rears up and slaps you in the face.
We had this happen overnight when serious illness struck a family member. A 1AM phone call gets your attention fast. All that worrying about which paper to use for a portfolio or whether the Flash loads fast enough suddenly goes, quite simply, poof.

It is hard for creatives to keep the balance between working hard at their businesses and the rest of their lives. Long hours happen more often than any of us would care to admit and the family members often have to simply accept that your repeated absences are just a part of who you are. But that is not a good thing.

Like anything in life, there are times where you just have to work your butt off–extra hours, etc. But for many of us, those times are not as often as we make them. Our priorities get screwed up. For example, if your significant other is saying that the relationship is in trouble, you might want to consider taking some time off to deal with that…now. Or if you haven’t been out to a movie or dinner or something in weeks, do it. Or gone to a museum or played with the kids or spent a day in bed with your significant other…make the time to do these things.

Today is Friday–the weekend is upon us and often that means if not work-work, then home projects. Consider taking some time to relax and just live instead. That’s your “assignment” for this weekend–live.

The work will always be there. Life, not so sure.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: the relative is hospitalized, but it seems that the proverbial bullet has been dodged and we are hopeful for a good recovery.

Stay active

Just a couple of important blurbs and links today. They deal with being active in your industry and all that that entails.

First off is the new Metadata Manifesto by the Stock Artists Alliance. As digital has changed the creative industries so has it opened up opportunities to improve trackability, etc., of images. This plan makes some wise suggestions.

The SAA’s site overall has lots of useful information. If you create stock work, you really should be a member.

The second is another reminder to get on your elected representatives about the Orphan Works bill. It is still out there and still a significant threat to creatives’ control and recompense. The Illustrators’ Partnership has really been the leader on this issue and their site has loads of outstanding information.

And lastly, if you think getting involved isn’t worth the effort, think again. Maria Piscopo has a good column in CA and on its site about how being active in a creative community has benefits you might not have thought about. So, by being active you not only build good karma, you can build your business. Most of you know that has worked for me. I participate on several forums and have ben active in creative pro groups in my own location (and beyond) for years. The payoff has been more business and a larger circle of friends and knowledge.

Can’t beat that with a stick!


A quote from an AD when I asked “What is the one piece of advice or warning you would give a photographer?�?

Client services–I may be their client, but my client is paying the bill. Don’t expect my client, me and my crew to come in from out of town and not have a decent breakfast when we arrive at the studio. I’m not expecting gourmet food, but something other than stale cereal and hard bagels, carbs may be back but are not for all. And lunch, don’t start ordering at lunch time, think ahead. And also get the client’s input on what genre of food they would like. Hungry and cranky clients do not make for a happy set. Especially if were all traveling away from the comforts of home and family. Make it and enjoyable experience for us to want to come back to. One of my favorite out of town shooters has different themed snacks in the afternoon, s’mores and hot chocolate on cold days, root beer floats and cookies on warm days.

Do you make your clients feel special? Do you go out of your way to give great (not just good) service on shoots? Is your studio clean (especially the bathrooms!) and climate-controlled?

What is the one thing you do with your clients that the other guy doesn’t? There are a lot of good shooters out there, sometimes the service you provide is the deciding factor in whether you get a project…or eternal voicemail.

Sex sells…

…not as much as you may think.

I recently surveyed buyers of photography (art buyers, art directors, etc.) about some of the marketing tools photographers use. The main results of that survey will be published elsewhere, but there was one unexpected thing I came across in the answers: people are sick of sex as a selling tool.

There were several questions that gave the respondents the chance to offer comments and, repeatedly, in those comments I read things like “enough with using sex�? and “[I like] an arresting photo that doesn’t use sex to sell.�? The fact that it happened, unasked, is important. Are you listening to your targets?

One part of it may be that a large number of art buyers are heterosexual women and most of them aren’t supermodels. That’s not saying anything against these women–I’m just like them and certainly no supermodel myself! As such, I can tell you that I get tired of looking at perfect female bodies in ultra-sexy images. We get hit enough with these in our everyday lives.

Because of that potential pre-disposition towards negative feelings with those images, it becomes very easy to start looking for faults more in those images than in others. And that is not good if you’re trying to sell to these people.

What to do? While you don’t have to get rid of all your sexy woman images (and, by the way, if you are a fashion shooter, none of this applies to you), you might want to keep them to a minimum and not use them prominently in your marketing. Pick more realistic people for your promos. In general, think about who it is that you are selling to and find what will connect with them. If you can make that connection, you’re golden.

Advertising can be good

So often the ads we see are really, well, crap. Some of the worst offenders have been political ads. Well, here’s one that’ll prove that it is possible to do great creative work even on a political campaign.

It’s important for all creatives to see work like this. The majority of creatives work for small clients in smaller markets. Often these clients function under very warped ideas of what is and is not effective in advertising. It becomes the creative’s job to (re)educate the client about what is and is not possible–what does and does not work. The more good work you can expose these clients to, the more likely your better creative ideas will get through to them. This is true whether you’re a photographer, writer, designer or whatever.

One of my favorite sites for this is Adland. I am an occasional contributor to this site (see especially the very often tongue-in-cheek “advertising tutorials�?–just stick “tutorial�? in the search box to get them). This is a great site because it exhibits global work and the people who participate are a great mix of creative pros from around the world. You’ll get new perspectives (read the comments) as well as the chance to see work you might never get to see here in the US. Buy the full “Super Adgrunt�? access (and no, I don’t get a cent for that plug).

Keep looking for great creative work and share it with others, especially your clients. It can help you get more creative work yourself.